By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The opportunity to get back on a game-day football field is still months away.
But spring football is a huge first step for D.T. Shackelford, and right now everything is moving ahead for a gifted player who last competed two years ago.
It was spring training in 2011 when Shackelford tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
It took two surgeries to get it right, but Shackelford is back on the field and he said he feels no effects of the time away.
“I know it sounds weird, but I don’t. Physically I feel great. I feel like I’m 100 percent healthy. I’m ready to roll,” he said. “I’m just having fun. I haven’t been able to do this in two years. I’m enjoying it.”
Shackelford made the All-SEC freshman team in 2009 and had nine tackles for loss and five sacks a year later as a sophomore when he saw time both at linebacker, his natural position, and at defensive end.
He has graduated and his working toward a master’s degree in higher education. He plans to pursue a doctorate as well.
Big things were expected from him in 2011 when he went down in spring drills, pounding the turf with his fist as he knew the injury was not minor.
Sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said there are only slight hints of a physical problem with Shackelford.
“Not too much. He’s physical, taking on linemen and running with good speed. He feels like he’s not missing that many steps,” Nkemdiche said.
hitting the weights
Shackelford, who played high school ball at Dectaur, Ala., said getting right physically was made possible by his work in the weight room. Too often players so eager to return will not fully dedicate themselves to the necessary physical training, he said.
“I had to conquer the weight room first. A lot of guys think they can override that step and get right back to the field.”
Shackelford’s biggest challenge has been learning new teammates – like Nkemdiche who he’s never played with – and a new system.
Shackelford was a part of the unit under former defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix that had a reputation for bringing pressure, butDave Wommack’s defense brings more pressure, he says.
“There’s a lot more blitzing. A lot of times it felt like we were blitzing, but we played a lot of base defense. At the end of the day, football is football. You shouldn’t complicate it.”
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze believes Shackelford will soon grasp the mental part of the game and that he’ll be able to help on the field.
Shackelford is currently with the linebackers.
“Some things that were natural two years ago, that’s a long time to be off from competing, but it’s coming back to him pretty quick,” Freeze said. “When you look at him one-on-one and how physical he plays, he’s going to be a big asset to us.”